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Family Letters


*The following is a letter written by Francis Xavier LaFortune's son, Albert Joseph LaFortune. It is a letter written to relatives in regards to family history. It contains information about Albert Joseph LaFortune's early life as well as that of other family members.

October 27th 1973.

Vancouver, B.C.


Dear Bob, Gwen & Shelly,

You will see we also have a postal code! What the hell it means is not quite understood, but we are given to understand that under the new code system a letter addressed by code will indicate the exact building for which it is meant. Postmen think it will do them out of jobs, but that is not necessarily so as no one will be laid off & it may be found in the end that as in the use of computers, a computer cannot correct its own mistake. At the start of use of book-keeping machines & early non-electric computers glaring mistakes happened. One happened to me. When I retired from the Customs-excise in 1951, civil servants were allowed six months leave after 25 or more years of service. While I was on this leave a raise was granted Customs officers. The raise to me was 75 cents (in pension) per month. A cheque was mailed me for the back pension in the amount of $750.00. It really hurt me to return the cheque but in the end I did.

Now to deal with your very intriguing letter. Thanks for Uncle Sam's marriage certificate. I don't know the exact date of Uncle Sam's birth, but can gauge it roughly. From the enclosed copy of Grandpa Handy's marriage certificate you will see he was married in 1866. My mother was the eldest of his wife's second family. She was born in 1867. Sam was the next child so he could not have been born before 1869 so in 1903 he could not have been older than 34. There is quite a story about father LaFortune & Sam Handy (uncle) & Harry Hawkins leaving Vancouver Island in 1893 which I cannot tell about now but may do at some later date in order not to embarrass Dave Brown or our own family. Actually Uncle Sam was not born in San Francisco, but at Mill Bay in Shawnigan Lake-District on Vancouver Island. If Dave is interested he could get his step-father's birth certificate from the Registrar of Births, Deaths & Marriages, Parliament Buildings, Victoria, as I am sure his birth would be registered there.

Thanks very much for the picture. I would not have recognized father LaFortune & told Alice so. She took one look at the picture & said "If you have any doubts just look at the picture of Roy (your brother) when he was younger.". I had always thought Roy resembled Laura & still think he does especially from his mouth. When I looked again at the photo I could see a real resemblance between father & Roy.

The photo of father LaFortune & Uncle Sam I presume was copied from a tin-type. It must have been taken on Vancouver Island prior to them leaving the Island for Alberta. Did I say Uncle Sam left with Dad for Alberta, but did not stay long at Beaverhill. The LaFortune's when they left Cobble Hill (Shawnigan District at the time) consisted of father, mother, your dad Frank, your Uncle Fred & a younger brother less than a year old, Uncle Walter & Sam Hawkins.

They first went to Edmonton. Whether Dad first filed on a homestead at Beaver Lake as it was then known & then went to work in Edmonton as a barkeeper at the Queens Hotel for Mr. & Mrs. Hetu or the reverse I don't know. The baby died soon after arrival at Edmonton before I was born. Beaver Lake (then known as Beaverhill Lake) adjoins Beaver Hills. It is about thirty miles southwest of Edmonton. I have never been there, but Ed has & has seen the old log cabin in which he & I were born. There used to be a post office at Beaver Lake but has long since been abolished. Ed says it is near Tolfield. If you look at a large map of Alberta you will find Beaverhill Lake in the vicinity indicated. In reading of a history of Alberta the Beaverhills & Beaver Lake were on an old Indian trail that lead across the prairie of Saskatchewan & Alberta & ran from there to Lac La Biche & from there to the Peace River (Pouce Coupe).

As there was later a place in Northern Alberta name Beaver Lake (in the Peace River) the original Beaver Lake was changed to Beaverhill Lake. The homestead was on the shores of Beaverhill Lake. Dad told me there were often prairie fires & the whole family used to take shelter on the shore of Beaver Lake. It is a fairly large lake, the edges being swampy.

Of course in those days the only means of travel was by covered wagon. With a whole family to feed (Frank, Fred, me & Ed) the journey could not be done in one day. Instead of the covered wagon shown in American picture shows our covered wagon was a large wagon with sides. Inside of which was a regular wedge (triangular) shaped tent. Inside were beds, a stove, another tent & supplies & I have a faint recollection we used to take along a cow to feed Ed & me.

We crossed the Saskatchewan by ferry which used to be where the Low Level Bridge now is. Have an idea the low-level was built around 1900 or 1901. It was quite new when we were kids & on the north side close to the bridge were the remains of the old ferry on the down-river side. On the up-river side there was for years an old dredge. At that time it was in good order & it seems to me a family lived on it for awhile. It was later hauled up further & tilted. We used to get dizzy playing on the sloping deck.

The photo of Uncle Walter must have been taken in Edmonton. When I first went there or the year after he was a hostler for a cartage company. Had to get up real early & be at the stable to feed & water the horses, check them for sores, see that the harness was in good order & such. Think he got all of $60.00 a month. He had a cabin in 1912 which he built on the old Hudson's Bay Reserve which was on the north side of the old G.T.P. Tracks. The picture must have been taken at the back of the cabin. He was quite young at the time. He was the youngest of the Handy's as far as I know. I do remember he did not like me to call him "Uncle" in public. Think he was thirty then. I worked at the time at the old G.T.P. shops at Calder. I stayed with Walter at his cabin. When he got up - 4 or 5 AM he would cook breakfast for me & leave it on the stove. I did not get up till about 7 as I started work at the shop office at 8. At the time it was hard to get office help at Calder as it was then or seemed too far from Edmonton where most preferred to stay, as then there was not a hotel at Calder & few took boarders. As a result all office help were carried as Assistant Mechanics on the pay-roll & we got $75.00 a month which was the most I ever earned in Canada until after the first war. To get to work the railway Co. gave us a speeder with a gas engine which ran on the tracks. The speeder used to be left at a junction not too far from Walter's cabin & a bit west of there. About five of us used to meet at the junction & ride the speeder to the office. Had to be alert for trains & we often had to get the speeder of the tracks to let a train go by.

Walter used to wake me when he left & say he had left the stove full (it was winter) & choked, but for me to be sure to refill the stove so my breakfast would be hot. Never did refill the stove with the result the basin of hot water he left on the stove for me to wash in, the tea or coffee pot, & the fried ham & eggs & porridge would all be frozen solid by the time I got up so had to break the ice on the basin & wash & shave in cold water & eat frozen bacon & eggs. He also left me a lunch pail, but that would be thawed in the office by lunch time.

Dave Brown was right in saying he & dad (Uncle Sam I mean by he) used to work together on the railroad, only it was not the Grand Trunk Pacific, but on the Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway which was then being built between Nanaimo & Victoria. They worked both ends. The last spike was driven at the south end of Shawnigan Lake, in what year I don't know but in the early 1890's. Dad had a lifetime pass on the railroad the E.N., built by the Dunsmuir's. He gave me the pass but I lost it years ago before the first war. He had also given me some clippings from a paper published in Dawson City. One of them was about him going on a rescue party as leader to rescue the crew of a boat wrecked off the coast of Alaska. He must have got around as a prospector. Another article was about him but did not name him. He had put an ad in the paper that he would do sufficient work on any claim before getting a crown grant - it did not say that he had to dig to hard-pan, above which gold was usually found. Dad's scheme for getting around this was that he would dig several holes on the claim, each quite shallow, say 6 or 7 feet & the total depth of these holes when added had to be accepted & a crown grant issued. Think they changed the law after that.

At one time dad thought he was a millionaire. There was a fast flowing creek the bottom of which was known to have heavy nuggets, as they were found near the shores where they could dig in shallow water. His scheme was to dam the creek. Turned out the creek was too fast of current & could not be dammed at the time. Later it probably was when heavy equipment came into use.

He also discovered a solid mountain of asbestos. He gave me some samples of it. They too alas I did not have the sense enough to keep, perhaps because I never stayed on one job long & had no where to leave things. Have an idea that the asbestos he found is now being mined by Cassiar Company & is one of the biggest asbestos producers in the world. In those days the asbestos deposit was so far from either a river or the coast that it could not be mined or shipped. Also by that time there was a huge asbestos deposit being mined in Quebec which filled practically the world requirements.

About Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway, dad hired the first special train to take mother to the hospital in Victoria when either your dad or Fred was born. Actually think it was Fred.

Tell Dave Brown that I'm sure I read in one of the Western Canadian Magazines an article about the murder of his father. If I recall it was close to the border of B.C. & the state of Washington. Now wish I could recall where the article appeared & when, but cannot, am almost sure it must have been his father. It was published as an unsolved mystery & I seem to recall that Dave's dad had quite a bit of raw gold either in dust or nuggets.

About the Hudson's Bay Reserve where Walter had his cabin. I don't know whether he rented the land from the H.B.Co. or just squatted. I was in Edmonton when the reserve was offered to the public on the basis of first come, first served. Meaning that No.1 in the lineup could choose his own lot. The first offer was somewhere in Jasper, probably at the old HB store. The lineup started a couple of days ahead. Some brought chairs & even sleeping bags in order to keep their place. I got into the lineup & there were more than a hundred ahead of me. The dodge was that someone with money (Many on the lineup were there only to sell their place in line.) I had no intention of buying but did get $50.00 for my place. Forget when that was but it was in either 1911 or 1912. The first few in line were offered over $1000.00 for their place.

At or when the Hudson's Bay next offered sales of lots on their reserve (which was a grant to them, a free grant) I was working for a Rev. Arthur Murphy. He was a Church of England Minister from Ontario. He had given up his priesthood & was agent for one of the banks in Edmonton. At the time banks were not permitted, or rather forbidden by law to take mortgages. The banks set up trust companies under a different name from the bank. Thus the Royal Trust Company was owned & managed by the Bank of Montreal. Forget for which Trust Co. Arthur Murphy worked, but this was how it was arranged. A farmer or homesteader went to his bank for a loan. He was refused, but told if he went to a certain Trust Co. (owned by the bank) a mortgage could probably be arranged. Arthur Murphy was agent for a Trust Co. owned by a bank. The bank would refer certain customers to him & Murphy if he thought the property worth it, would arrange for a mortgage. A title, or crown grant to a homestead at that time was worth a minimum of $2000.00 from that up to a maximum of $5000.00 depending on where the homestead was & whether it was in a district with regular rainfall & not too late frost so the wheat could be harvested.

Primitive machinery was in great demand & needed, such as a binder, thresher & such. The Trust Co.'s were really big hearted. They worked two angles. If a mortgage was granted, the machinery, team cows, or whatever the homesteader wanted had to be bought from designated parties or machinery firms. The other angle was if a homestead was worth $2000.00 cash (160 acres) the loan or mortgage would not be for more than $500.00. There was a clause included on the mortgage that also surrender underground rights. Even then it was known to banks & knowledgeable investors that there was oil & gas under many parts of Alberta especially in the area around Edmonton & even in the Alberta part of Peace River. Interest rates were high for the time, I think the lowest being 8%. Added to that in the mortgage agreement, which might run up to five years or even less, the entire amount of the mortgage had to be paid off at the end of the term in one sum. Thus if $500.00 was lent, interest had to be paid quarterly or semi-annually. If interest was not paid on time, the interest became part of the original amount so interest had to be paid on overdue interest. Compounded that is.

In many respects this was the best job I ever had, as office hours were from the time banks opened till banks closed. So my hours were from 10 AM to 3 PM. Mrs. Murphy came from a rich & political family in Ontario - the Ferguson's.

Arthur Murphy had a credit at the bank, relayed through a Trust Co. of $2,000,000. He got a good commission perhaps as high as 25% of the mortgage granted. Also through the Ontario Ferguson's he obtained a grant from the Alberta Govt. (This was after Alberta became a Province in 1905) of fifty thousand acres of coal land. On this grant he was supposed to pay yearly taxes. The taxes were small, but every year a special Act would be passed remitting the taxes he should have paid. His wife was a writer quite renowned in Canada at the time. She wrote under the name of Janey Canuck. She was the first woman judge appointed in Canada. She was a judge in Edmonton on the Juvenile Court. A friend of hers was also a writer living in Calgary. She was Nellie McCloug.

Murphy was good in many ways as he could well afford to. He rented part of his office to a doctor. McDonald I think his name was. I had no work to do so he got the doctor to pay part of my salary to answer the Dr.'s phone to. My pay was $40.00 a month. Partly paid by the Dr. I used to read the Dr.'s medical books in my spare time of which there was plenty.

As part of this may be unwritten history, Rev. Murphy had been defrocked by the Church of England because of entanglements with women parishioners, Art Murphy was one of the finest looking men I ever saw. Not effeminate in any way. Tall, well built & a massive head of hair which must have grayed in his early youth. His wife must have loved him. Despite that fact that he was de-frocked she stayed with him. After his grant or rather he sold $2,000,000 of mortgages he was let out. He returned to the Church, confessed his errors & was accepted as a Church of England Clergyman.

When he closed the office I was out of a job. He had so few letters to write, aside from filling out mortgage forms, which were in most part printed with a few spaces to fill in such as the amount of the mortgage, date due & such that I used to put in a great deal of time in writing perfect letters which he had dictated. Such as perfect spacing, making each line of typing end at the same space, etc. In the event he thought so much of my typing & devotion to his work that he took me to a law firm, the most prominent in Edmonton, Greiswald & O'Connor. Greiswald (not sure of the spelling of his name) was one of the original first formed North West Mounted Police as was then their original name. Later a Colonel in the first war & even then he was old. He & Colonel Steele joined N.W.M.P in Ontario at the same time. Dave will know of Fort Steele (again not sure of the spelling). To revert to Greiswald & O'Connor, it was the biggest law firm in Edmonton. Don't remember where their office was. I was the only male stenographer & at the time not too well dressed & young. I worked with from 8 to 12 girls, stenos. They were more experienced in legal phraseology than I was & I was not comfortable in the presence of so many girls, most of whom were several years older than me. In those days office help really had to work (aside from Murphy's office). A steno took dictation fro perhaps one to two hours all in legal terms. I was fairly good in shorthand, not too good at typing. Did not last long at that job mainly because I was not so well dressed & the office was so busy no one had time to talk to the other. After a month I quit because of a feeling of inferiority complex & not used to working with girls. Strangely I cannot recall & never even knew the name of any girls who worked there. There must have been antagonism between the girls & me. Girls wanted jobs for girls & wanted only males who were bosses, I could not reconcile to working with girls who may have thought I was doing one or more of them out of a job. At a guess I worked there only a few weeks perhaps less then a month. What impressed me was I was the only male steno. The girls were beautifully dressed & ever so self-confident. Perhaps if I had stayed longer I would have fit in. The girls were not antagonistic perhaps waiting for me to make the first approach & I was afraid of women at the time, my only association with women then was with the women of what was then called of a lower strata in society, such as waitresses, not that I was not proud of made friends with many, but most were older than I was.

As your Uncle Ed & I were brought up in a Jesuit School for boys we had no association with girls or even women. That to you may be rather hard to understand. At St. Boniface College where we were for five years we did not meet even one girl until we left there at the respective ages of 14 & 15. I do not know of Ed's first girlfriend but I will never forget the first female friend I ever had. She was a waitress at the Queens Hotel when I was 15 or 16. We both found in conversations that we had gone to school together at Queens Ave. School in Edmonton. I recalled something of her of which I never told her. At Queens School classes were formed of both boys & girls. To go to the outside outhouse children had to indicate to the teacher they wished to leave the room by interrupting class by putting up one or two fingers, one finger told we had to pee, two fingers we had to do the opposite or both. Sometimes teachers would withhold permission. On the occasion in mind my later girlfriend put up one finger. The teacher refused her permission to leave the room. Soon a trickle ran from her desk to the front of the class, visible to all. The girl had had to pee her pants & was ever so embarrassed as who would not be.

You are right in saying your Uncle Fred was a scrapper or fighter. Paul told the truth when he said Fred would walk into the bar, probably after a few drinks & offer to fight anyone on the bar. Bars in those days you may or may not know of. Drinks were served from a counter. The counter could be from 30 to 70 feet long. There was a brass rail at the front bottom of the bar. Drinks had to be served from the bar - no tables or chairs.

There was usually a small room off the bar or upstairs in the hotel where gambling was allowed. This was generally restricted to favored customers who all knew each other - no outsiders allowed. Remember at the Queens there were two such rooms. One was near the bar & almost anyone allowed to play there. The one upstairs was restricted to a doctor (I forget his name, but he was the DR. who came West with the Northwest Mounted Police) real--state men, Mr. Hetu of course & other merchants & such. There were usually quite a number - up to 8 or 10. Of course they were served all the drinks they wanted at almost any hour & their games went on till the early hours. They did not meet too often, not more than once a week & sometimes every ten days or two weeks. Stakes ran high & they played for other things besides money.

Drinks at the bar 3 for 25 cents, many took a cigar instead of a drink. The bottle of your choice was put before you & you poured your own drink. Small mickies were sold for 25 cents. The cash registers were poor affairs in those days. When the bar was really busy, the barkeep might not ring up the sale. It used to be said the barkeeper would throw the quarter of half dollar up to the ceiling. If the coin stuck, he would ring it up. If it fell he would pocket the coin. When serving a drunk, he was often short-changed. Sometimes someone would come in with a roll of several hundred dollars & tell the barkeep not to let him spend anymore than $50.00. Next morning the drunk would come in & be told he had demanded the rest of his money & of course as it was his the barkeeper did not have the right to refuse him. However saying that he (the barkeep) was a good friend he would give him up to $5.00 out of his own pocket he said & throw in a two-bit mickie. The customer would think the barkeep a wonderful friend & do the same thing the next time he was in town.

Of course the Hetu's did not stand for this if they learned of it. Some barkeepers after a couple of years would buy the owner out & hire the owner as barkeep then a few years later he would buy our his former barkeep. Then busy there were often four or five barkeeps on duty.

The picture from you mother was top row Uncle Fred & two of his friends lower, Frank & me. It must have been taken when I was working at the Queens in 1911 & was the first time I met them since childhood. Walter was at that time out of town & did not meet him till later.

Love to all

Uncle Albert


*The following is a letter written by Albert Joseph La Fortune in reference to St Francis Xavier Church at Mill Bay on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. It also makes references to numerous family members & some of the history that goes with them.

This is the church in which father & mother were married, either in 1887 or 1888. They were the first couple to married there. Mother's mother, Grandma Handy, was the first to be buried there.

Louis Gabourie was a friend of father's. He was with Xavier Vautrin, mother's grandfather in the old Northwest Fur Traders in 1822 when it was taken over by the Hudson's Bay Company.

The Sam Handy was probably Grandpa Handy but might have been Uncle Sam.

Will Rivers was the husband to a half-sister of Mother's, Amelia Rivers, nee Amelia LeGacy. (LeGace)

John Grieg, was husband of another of Mother's half-sisters, Susan Grieg, nee LeGacy or LeGace. John & his father came from Scotland with Lord Selkirk's settlers for the Red River Settlement near Winnipeg, Manitoba. I knew them with the exception of Louis Gabourie.p>

The Barry's were friends of Mother, Father & Uncle Joe LaFortune & his wife Frances. Frances was daughter of one of the brothers Verdier, early settlers at Saanich. They were from France. Old Mrs. Barry I knew. She had a wonderful memory, could tell me when Father & Mother were married, when Frank & Fred were born etc.

"Handy" you know of. Regarding the mention of her husband being buried in the United Church graveyard - it was then the Methodist graveyard. Mother's sister, Aunt Rebecca Robertson, later Carlson, told me when Grandpa Handy was 98, he died a few days before 99, he asked her to ask the Catholic priest if he could be buried beside his wife. The priest told her only if he became a Catholic. He thought it over a few days then told her " you tell the priest to go to hell & I'll go to the Methodists.

Before she died a few years ago Aunt Ellen Dykes, born Ellen Handy, first married to a Cameron, whom she divorced for cruelty, Cameron once tried to kill her with an axe, had a stone placed on each of the graves of her Father & Mother. The work was done by her son-in-law & grandson Alex & Jim McAllister.

Joe LaFortune referred to was Joe LaFortune, brother to our Father. Dad told me He & Joe came from a poor family, though at one time they must have been well to do, judging from their proper family name "Tellier de LaFortune". They were from St. Lin, Quebec. Dad told me his Mother's maiden name was LaRamee. St. Lin was where Sir Wilfred Laurier was born. Incidentally Laremy, Wyoming was named after a LaRamee. The town of Laremy, Wyoming learned he was a French Canadian, wrote to Quebec but that Province would find no record of the particular LaRamee though there were families of that name in Quebec.

More about Frank & Joe. They never had a chance to go to school; worked on the farm then in the woods from ages 12 & 10. At that age they worked the woods in Quebec, the New England States, south to Florida, then to Mexico. Frank left Joe in Mexico, got to Nevada, where he & a partner filed a claim on a silver mine. Don't know the exact place or name of the mine. It was so successful Father had enough money to visit his family in St. Helene, at the age of about 35. Before leaving his partner had him sign papers, he said were so he could run the mine in Father's absence. At the time father could neither read nor write. On returning from St. Helene found he had signed over the mine to his partner & was out altogether. He then learned to read & write. From there he went to Vancouver Island to again work in the woods.

In the meantime Joe then kept in touch somehow. Joe had someone write Father he was sick with Yellow Fever. Father sent for him. Joe filed for a pre-emption on eighty acres at Cobble Hill, after working with Father. Joe married Frances Verdier. Father, Grandpa Handy, Louis Gabourie & others built them a log house on LaFortune Road. Later Father filed a pre-emption next to Joe's & married Mother. Before leaving for Edmonton he sold his place for $500.00.

Mrs. Samuelson is the daughter of Rebecca Robertson, our Aunt. At death she was Rebecca Carlson, her first husband, Hank Robertson, was from Little Rock, Arkansas.

Don't know which of the Grieg's referred to were but presume they were the children of John Grieg & Susan Grieg, nee Legacy or LeGace. John Grieg did have a brother so it may be the brother's children. Ivan Monk & Helen Best were twins. Mrs. Kathy Robertson was the wife of our cousin Phillip (Pete) Robertson. She was from Scotland.

Three of the Deloume family I knew. One is not mentioned as he left the Church, being an agnostic. The other two had a farm, the brother a life-long bachelor, his sister an old maid. They lived in a lovely old log cabin. They told me Frank & Joe had helped build it, in particular doing the floor & inside walls with a (broad axe) not the correct name. So smooth were they one could imagine having been sawn, with few axe marks showing, almost as if they had been planed.

The Rivers were Bill Rivers, his wife Aunt Amelia.

*Please note that the purpose of publishing these letters is to share the family history that is contained in them. For the most part the information contained in the letters is correct. There are a few errors as to exact dates etc., please refer to the corresponding descendants page for the most current information. They have played a key role in the research of my mother's paternal line because of the wealth of information they contain.The letters are the property of myself, Laurel Katernick, & were given to me by my mother, Alice Maire Moore nee LaFortune. She received the letters upon the death of her father Albert Joseph LaFortune in 1977.

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UPDATED December-04-2001

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